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Carson Wentz Report: Week 9

Four more touchdowns cap off a stellar day for the sophomore QB

NFL: Denver Broncos at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

There are a lot of narratives that have divided the NFL community when it comes to the opinion of Carson Wentz. This will be a weekly installment that focuses solely on the Eagles’ young signal caller, with analysis, evidence and statistics along with context to provide a deep dive on Wentz’s play.

Welcome back to the Wentz report. For all previous Wentz Reports, make sure to check back here. Even the biggest Carson Wentz believers couldn't have seen this sort of season coming. No second year quarterback has had this sort of output since Dan Marino, and I still can’t pull my jaw off of the floor. I said at the conclusion of last week’s Wentz report that I expected the Broncos game to be a tough one for him because of the talent level in Denver, but if he threw four touchdowns it was safe to put money on Wentz for MVP. Well, four touchdowns and zero interceptions later here we are. Carson Wentz leads the NFL in touchdown passes in an offense that didn’t necessarily project to put up this many touchdowns. I’m going to do this Wentz report differently than I have so far this season.

Interceptable Throws (ITs)

Carson Wentz did not have any Interceptable throws this week.

Week 9

The first play I want to start with is Wentz’s first touchdown to Alshon Jeffery. Pre-snap Wentz is looking at box, and it’s fairly crowded. Wentz elects to keep the ball on the play, which seems like a questionable decision. The Eagles offensive lineman were able to block everyone and Von Miller coming off of the edge looked to be in position to play Wentz perfectly. Wentz rolls out to his right and Alshon Jeffery slips past Aqib Talib who was peeking in the backfield on the outside. Wentz delivers a perfect ball to Alshon who scores the first of many points. I’m wondering if Wentz had predetermined to go with Alshon the entire way because he kept the ball despite Miller being in position to play him. The coverage pre-snap, with a single high safety — evidenced that Jeffery was going to get one-on-one situation. As long as Talib bites on the fake or at least hesitates, the opportunity is going to be there, and Wentz absolutely nails it. I mentioned last week when Wentz missed Alshon for an easy touchdown when Solomon Thomas was in his face that those were throws he needed to make. He made that throw here, on the run, with one of the NFL’s best defenders right in his face.

I’ve raved about the work Wentz has done at the line of scrimmage and pre-snap all year long, but he really seemed to take it to the next level in Week 4 when the Eagles traveled to Los Angeles to play the Chargers. Here Wentz uses the motion of Trey Burton to identify the coverage. The safety follows Burton, which implies the Broncos are playing man coverage. With a deep safety, this indicates Cover 1 to be specific. Using all of this information, Wentz knows he's going to have Alshon Jeffery matched up against Bradley Roby on the outside. He kills to the next play that was called in the huddle which takes advantage of the matchup the Eagles have with Jeffery on the outside. Jeffery beats Roby on the corner route and makes the catch. The matchup was a tough one for Roby to defend, as evidenced by the holding penalty he was slapped with on the play.

Above is a play from the Chargers game, similar to the one before it. I wanted to use this to show the progression in Wentz’s ball placement and understanding of where he needs to put the ball on different routes to eliminate the possibility of a turnover. It’s easy to forget that Wentz is not even two years removed from playing at the FCS level where he was superior to every player on the field and could easily get away with these throws. He’s visibly learning and showing progress in the nuances that don’t show up in the box score.

I’ve talked consistently all year about Wentz and how he's grown as an anticipation thrower. He’s doing a much better job of getting rid of the ball before receivers are open or break on their routes. This opens up opportunity for bigger plays, yards after the catch and keep players out of harms way. The end result of the play was a drop, but that’s not on Wentz’s end.

Continuing the trend of Wentz’s in-season improvement, I want to take a look back at the throw that set set up Jake Elliott’s 61-yard game winning field goal against the Giants. This was a game where the Eagles looked to take more off of Wentz’s plate. On the throw, he pumps fakes, but you can see it’s more of a hesitation, like he’s stopping to regroup. As a result the throw comes late to Jeffery who is already well into his break before Wentz reloads. This is the same exact play/route concept as the play before, but you can visibly see the confidence Wentz has obtained. In the first play he pump fakes as a design to purposely open a throwing lane behind the underneath flat defender. After the pump there is no hesitation and he lets the ball go as Jeffery is breaking off of his stem. Again, these detail don’t show up in the box score, but watching them over the course of the season and referring back to them paints a clearer picture as to why Wentz is performing as well as he is now. He’s made the strides and improvements that a franchise envisions when they take a QB with the second overall pick.

Sticking with anticipation throws and the nuances of the game, Wentz isn't just showing that with his improved accuracy. In the play above Wentz uses his eyes to move the linebacker to his left with the tight end who is running up the left seam this opens up another throwing lane in the middle of the field for Wentz to hit Alshon Jeffery. Wentz has been effectively using his eyes to manipulate defenses and create opportunities for the Eagles offense all season long.

This is the final play I want to take a look at, Carson Wentz’s touchdown to Trey Burton. The Eagles are running the same route combination to both sides again with the two tight ends, Brent Celek and Burton, on the outside. Pre-snap Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall lines up outside against Burton in off-coverage, which is an indicator of man-coverage. Two years ago in Super Bowl 49, the Patriots split Rob Gronkowski out wide before the half ended, forcing the Seahawks to show their coverage. K.J. Wright followed Gronk to the boundary, tipping that Seattle was in man. The result of the play was a touchdown. Here the Eagles get the same indication, and the Broncos, again, are playing with a single-high safety. Trey Burton may not be Zach Ertz, but he still presents athletic mismatches for a defense. Based on the matchup, Wentz knows where he wants to go with it. He gives a look to his left post snap to try and bring the safety that way while Burton creates separation with a well executed sluggo (slant and go) route. The safety doesn't bite, but also can't get to the boundary in time to help Marshall who got lost on Burton’s route. A perfect throw from Wentz is put on Burton’s back shoulder where only he can make a play.

As I stated in the introduction, I took a different approach to this week’s Wentz report. The latest knock on Wentz is that he’s only what the offense makes him. While Doug Pederson has done a fantastic job of play-calling, designing and scheming to help Wentz and the offense grow, the point remains that their are nuances and a certain talent level that must be met to execute an offense the way Wentz has done so this year. There are still some occasional lapses where he’ll overthrow a receiver deep, as he did in this game with Trey Burton, but as whole, it’s hard to find flaws that point to Wentz not being one of the league’s best quarterbacks. He just gets better and better each week, learning from his mistakes, playing with more confidence while leading a legitimate candidacy for league MVP.

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